WARNING: SPORTS NERD POST (links to rebuttals from BYU fans are at the bottom)
With the annual rivalry battle between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University just days away, I thought it would be a perfect time to post a collection of evidence why Utah is more fun to follow than BYU. My initial idea was to write this a few weeks ago, so fellow bloggers who are BYU fans could post replies. Unfortunately, delays-upon-delays meant that now I only have a few days before the game, which leaves a very small window for a BYU response. If no one is able to, then I suppose Utah wins by default. I mean, they would win anyway, but nobody likes to see a forfeit from the other team.
The big problem I encountered when compiling this list is that I enjoy watching BYU football, as well. I have followed Utah all of my sports life, which began back when it was less of a rivalry and more of a yearly massacre at the hands of the Cougars. After the tables began to balance and my sports fan tastes matured a bit (so to speak – people rarely use the terms “sports fan” and “mature” in the same sentence) I curiously found myself both watching and enjoying BYU football. In fact, I even considered myself a legitimate fan of both teams for a while, which was a difficult balancing act, and could not be sustained for long.
Now I am firmly entrenched in the Utah camp, and although I looked over the fence for a while, I realize now that I never really left. Remnants of my dual identity remain, and although I may draw ridicule from other fans for trying to follow two rival teams, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Cougars. Sometimes it’s a very small spot, but it is there.
With that out of the way, allow me to move on to the primary arguments:
Utah has been as nationally relevant as BYU over the past 17 years. I selected 1992 as the beginning year for this point, as that is when Utah began a football renaissance and began to play at a higher level. BYU had been at that level for years, winning a surprising-to-this-day national championship in 1984, and featuring Ty Detmer’s Heisman Trophy season in 1990. I fully acknowledge that if I were writing this in 1991, BYU would be the runaway winner. Of course, if I were writing this in 1964, Utah would have won 34 of the past 40 games against BYU, with four ties and only two losses. So, short of considering the entire past, it makes sense to just stick with the most recent era, when both teams are balanced against each other.
Utah’s overall record since 1992 is 134-67 (.667), while BYU’s is 139-71 (.662). [Ed. Note: My friend Zach recently pointed out that I am an idiot. Well, he didn’t put it in those words – he just let me know that my math in the previous sentence was wrong, which has since been altered to show the correct percentages. The lesson to be learned here: Math is not my strong suit. And, I am an idiot.] In that stretch of 17 seasons – including the current one – Utah has finished with a losing record twice (2000 and 2002), and BYU has three times (2002, 2003, 2004). BYU still leads the Conference Championship debate, with 8 since 1992. They also have a chance at sharing a ninth championship with a win on Saturday. Utah still only has 5 Conference championships, counting the guaranteed share this year.
This means that Utah and BYU have comparable win/loss records and total number of winning seasons over the given time frame. BYU has more conference championships, but in the Mountain West Conference both teams have four, counting Utah’s possible outright/certain share this year. This point would probably be a wash, then, if not for…
Utah has a better bowl record since 1992. Utah has played in 11 bowls since 1992, with an 8-3 record, while BYU has played in 10, and is 4-6. If we move the comparison back a year, so both teams have 11 bowl games, then BYU is 4-6-1, having recorded a reprehensible tie in the 1991 Holiday Bowl against Iowa.
BYU’s most recent notable bowl game was a 19-17 win against Kansas State in the 1997 Cotton Bowl, while Utah’s most recent notable bowl game was a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Should Utah win on Saturday, it will be two undefeated seasons and two (likely) BCS bowls under two different coaching staffs, and only four years apart. Even if BYU should win, Utah probably remains the only MWC team to appear in the BCS so far, as BYU would need some unlikely help to get there this season.
Bowl game record is the trump card of the argument. Each team is approximately equal in record for the past 17 years, each has played and won a nationally relevant bowl in that time, and both have avoided an excess of losing seasons. The only major difference is in bowl game record, which is important to the program because it gives the team one more nationally televised game that can help with recruiting and poll position the following year. Provided you win, of course; and Utah is 7-0 in the past seven years. Ergo, Utah has been the better team since 1992 – point, game, set, and match.
However, I have a few other significant items to mention:
Utah has won the Rivalry Game more often since 1992. BYU has come from behind each of the past two years to win the annual tilt in dramatic fashion. However, since 1992, Utah has won more often: nine victories to BYU’s seven. It’s true that this is a small difference like many of the earlier numbers, but the value isn’t in the disparity as much as the fact that it’s close, with Utah even in a slight lead. Such a thing was unthinkable in the two decades prior to 1992, and further proof that Utah has equaled, if not exceeded, their rivals.
Utah has the Underdog Vibe, BYU has the Arrogance Vibe. BYU fans love to discuss the strength of their national following, and it is a compelling argument. The built-in fan base means they have interest from all over the country, as well as recruiting power anywhere – although it is pretty limited in most places. However, outside of that very specific base, interest in the Cougars diminishes. That is not to say that Utah has more national interest, but which team would have greater appeal to a casual outside observer? The plucky, up-and-coming team just starting to make noise on the national stage? Or the established, dismissive former power that is perceived to trade on its slowly eroding tradition?
BYU players and fans have long been seen as arrogant, which is unfair to a point, but earned in large part. Most of this comes from the tendency of BYU fans to brag about: (1) the high moral standards at BYU, (2) the difficulty in being accepted to study there, and (3) the quality of people who attend because of the first two points. The problem is most BYU followers either don’t understand or don’t care that arguing that point is perceived as conceited and egotistical by rival teams and fans.
Here is an example of what I mean: I once asked a girl out to a high school dance who was well above my pay grade. She was a senior, I was a junior; she was a cheerleader, I was on the school newspaper; she was pretty, I was … funny (sort of). In fact, I only knew her because we were both on the debate team, and in a fit of exuberance and over-confidence, I asked her out to the Junior Prom. She declined, of course, but instead of a simple “sorry, but no,” or a polite excuse, she decided write me a note with a deeper explanation. I don’t remember many of the details, save for one line that I have repeated many times – the first few times for shock value and the rest of the times for the undeniable humor: “I don’t date very often,” she wrote, “because I have really high standards.”
The note-writing cheerleader probably didn’t mean to imply that I wasn’t good enough to date her; she was simply informing me of her high standards. I genuinely don’t believe that she was trying to hurt my feelings. In fact, she probably thought she was being unnecessarily kind to explain why her expansive dating circle and my limited dating circle (basically just me standing inside my own very small circle) were never destined to intersect.
In that same fashion, most BYU fans probably don’t actually think of themselves as a better class of people, but the message certainly comes across that way. Times are bound to change, and if Utah keeps winning they will eventually lose the Underdog Vibe. However, I haven’t seen any signs of BYU losing the Arrogance Vibe anytime soon. Fair or not, correct or not, it is a part of the rivalry.
Kyle Whittingham is more fun to have as a head coach than Bronco Mendenhall. A minor cult of personality has sprung up around Bronco Mendenhall. His success as a coach and his image of disciplined leadership has inspired hero worship from legions of Cougar fans. For the record, I don’t think Bronco is comfortable with this in any way. He strikes me as a very decent guy who is probably embarrassed by the attention. However, it is there, and in some ways I suspect it doesn’t let Coach Mendenhall vary from his gruff, straightforward exterior. He has to be too conscious of his words and actions as he is under a magnifying glass.
Coach Whittingham, however, knows no such limitations. Although any head coach at a big college program has to be careful about his words and actions, Kyle’s success has made him virtually bulletproof at Utah. Whether we as Utah fans are less demanding or more understanding, we seem to enjoy the ride with Whittingham, as opposed to adoring his genius, as BYU fans are increasing guilty of doing to Mendenhall. Kyle has the added benefit of being immune to barbs from BYU fans, because he played his own college football for them. True, most fans still throw them, but they fear, deep down, that they are still taking on one of their own.
As a bonus point, I have noticed that Kyle Whittingham has rather large, pronounced canine teeth, which makes him look just a bit like a snarling wolf as he is pacing the sidelines. In fact, “Wolf” would be a good nickname and a nice complement to “Bronco” on the other sideline. I think we should make this happen. Wolf Whittingham has a nice ring to it, provided we can clear the red tape with American Gladiators.
Finally, a few more quick ones:
I would rather be nervous about the offense and confident in the defense than vice versa. This one is really just a preference, but it is a reason I have enjoyed watching Utah’s games more than BYU’s games this year. Ideally a team has both, but until Utah and BYU are getting Big 12 amounts of money every year they won’t get much Big 12 caliber talent. Utah’s offense can be a frightening train ride, which makes it all the more enjoyable to sit back and watch the defense with the game. BYU has a fantastic offense with a lot of weapons, but the defense is often quite shaky. I have watched both situations applied to both teams over the years, and I think I have come to the decision that I would rather have the great defense, if I have to choose. Of course, next time Utah has a great offense and a bad defense, I reserve the right to change my mind.
Red is a better uniform color for television than blue. It’s true. Tiger Woods wears red shirts during his final round for the same reason (or so I have read). Although the competitive advantage of such a fact is dubious, it is the basis of another reason why I prefer to cheer for Utah: better on television.
Utah’s mascot stinks, but at least it doesn’t have Cosmo’s terrifying face. Swoop the Red-Tailed Hawk is irritating and bothersome, the way most mascots are, but on the other hand, I don’t have nightmares about his hideous face. I can’t say the same after the inevitable sideline camera close-up of Cosmo the Cougar frightening children in the first 15 rows (tip to the camera guy: stay focused on the cheerleaders). I wish they would pull Cosmo’s old head out of mothballs. Maybe it would trick some of the more aged fans into believing it was 1984 again.
Singing “Utah Man” versus dancing the Haka. Remember when Utah head coach Urban Meyer started a new tradition of players singing the Utah fight song on the field after home games, and every fully invested BYU fan decided to make fun of it? Remember the accusations of Meyer trying to manufacture tradition? Remember the laughter and the pointing fingers? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Defense Exhibit #1: BYU’s version of the Haka.
The Haka is plenty cool when performed under the proper conditions, even as a prelude to a sporting event. The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union team comes to mind. What relevance it may have to BYU has never been made clear.
Incidentally, the Utah players still gather to sing their fight song at the end of home games. I haven’t seen the Haka lately, and assume it has been mercifully discontinued. Please let me know if I am wrong.
With that, I would like to invite responses and replies from BYU fans, or arguments in support from Utah fans. I am pretty certain I know everyone who reads this, so I acknowledge that I am in essence calling a few people out. Because this is so late in coming, I don’t mind at all if it comes after the game; I just want to hear your points. I suspect there may be one or two “I’m a fan of BYU because they beat Utah” responses the game doesn’t go the way I hope on Saturday, and so be it.
My final prediction: Utah 31, BYU 21